A Canadian student pilot who stole a plane from a flight school in Thunder Bay, Ont., and flew it over four American states before landing on a road in Missouri was sentenced Tuesday to two years in a U.S. federal prison.
Adam Dylan Leon, 31, had pleaded guilty in August to all three charges against him: interstate transportation of a stolen aircraft, importation of a stolen aircraft and illegal entry.
Leon admitted that on April 6 he stole a four-seat Cessna 172 from the Confederation College Flight School, where he was a student, and flew it over Lake Superior and across the U.S. border.
The flight continued over Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois before the plane landed more than seven hours later on a road near Ellsinore in southern Missouri.
The unauthorized flight into U.S. air space prompted two F-16 jet fighters into action, tailing the plane until it landed. The state capitol building in Madison, Wis., was evacuated because authorities weren't sure whether the pilot was a terrorist or had some other hostile motive.
Leon's lawyer told the court that her client suffered from depression. The FBI and Missouri State Highway Patrol said Leon told them he was trying to commit suicide and hoped that U.S. fighter jets would shoot him down.
A spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defence Command said the aircraft was left alone because it wasn't deemed a security threat. The F-16 pilots used hand gestures and flares to try to persuade the pilot to land.
When the plane finally did touch down, it was nearly out of fuel. The Highway Patrol said Leon then hitched a ride from a passerby to a store, where he bought a Gatorade and sat at a booth until police arrived.
Leon was born Yavuz Berke in Turkey before moving to Canada, changing his name and becoming a naturalized citizen. He was described as being a good student and well liked at the Thunder Bay flight school.
According to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw gave Leon a tougher sentence than the 12 to 18 months called for in federal sentencing guidelines.
"Under the guidelines, this is treated like a stolen car," Shaw told the court. "This is very serious. I think this is an extraordinary situation in terms of cost and the hours involved. And it posed a significant disruption to government."
Documents showed that the pursuit of the plane cost the government about $230,000 US, which the prosecution argued warranted a harsher sentence.